Airlines warn of turmoil as snow heads for U.S. northeast
With more snow forecast for the Northeast this weekend, major U.S. airlines hit hard by a December blizzard are warning of delays and cancellations and waiving the usual fees to change flights.
American, United and Continental all say there could be travel disruptions at large airports such as Newark, LaGuardia and JFK in the New York City area. The National Weather Service has issued winter storm watches and advisories from eastern Pennsylvania to Vermont ahead of the storm.
AMR Corp.'s American said Thursday that customers scheduled to fly to, from or through 14 airports in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts on Saturday or Sunday can change their itinerary without paying the usual $150 rebooking fee if they begin their rescheduled trip no later than Monday.
Delta Air Lines Inc. made the same offer for weekend travel to those states plus Rhode Island if the rescheduled trip starts on or before next Friday. Customers could get hit with a higher fare.
United and Continental, owned by United Continental Holdings Inc., waived their $150 change fee for travel at 14 airports in the Northeast between Friday and Monday. They said they would also waive any difference in fare if the rescheduled trip starts by Jan. 23.
JetBlue, AirTran and Frontier also said they would waive change fees.
Airlines often drop the fees when bad weather is forecast, and they advise passengers to call and check on flights before heading to the airport.
The airlines are still reeling from late-December storms that caused the cancellation of more than 10,000 flights and delayed travel plans for hundreds of thousands of passengers. Aviation data provider FlightStats.com said North American airlines canceled more than 29,000 flights last month, up from about 21,000 in December 2009.
Delta Air Lines Inc. said Wednesday that severe weather in the U.S. and Europe last month will cut $45 million from its fourth-quarter earnings. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expect the company to report adjusted earnings of about $210 million for the period.
George Hobica of travel website airfarewatchdog.com said airlines are canceling more flights ahead of time to avoid penalties when planes sit on the tarmac for more than three hours.
Mike Benjamin, CEO of FlightView, which tracks airport delays, said airlines were trying to make the best out of a bad weather situation by waiving rebooking penalties and using Twitter to warn passengers early about possible delays.
"There's definitely a shift in how airlines are responding to the weather," he said. "Gone are the days when they'd just say, 'It's weather and there's nothing we can do about it.'"
--The Associated Press